Guwahati: Close on the heels of a bloody clash during an eviction drive in Darrang, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Friday said the state wishes to “clean” the Lumding Reserve Forest of alleged encroachers, but has taken an “amicable approach through dialogue” to encourage people to leave on their own.

The controversial drive to turf out “illegal settlers” at Gorukhuti’s Dhalpur villages in Darrang district last month, had left at least two persons dead in police firing and nearly two dozens injured.

“After Gorukhuti, we need to clean Lumding forest, but we are talking amicably so that it can happen through a proper discussion. I met most of the minority leaders and told them that if the police go in and even if there is a small incident, then people in the world, particularly my left friends, will exaggerate it,” Sarma said.

He appealed to settlers inside the Lumding Reserve Forest, to leave the place on their own and expressed happiness that 150-odd families have already left the jungle.

“The Hon’ble Gauhati High Court has passed an order for eviction. So, I met various minority student organisations. I have explained to them the Gauhati High Court order, and (asked them to) kindly explain it to the people,” Sarma said at a press conference here.

He said those who are landless can apply to the Deputy Commissioner of the district from where they lived originally to assist them.

“We have to comply with the High Court order. But before eviction, I am meeting people… We came to know that they had come for ginger farming inside a huge area in the forest and they were backed by 3-4 big traders. We are coming to know these facts now,” Sarma claimed.

When asked about the Gorukhuti eviction, he said it is “mostly completed” and only a few houses are left.

“We are counselling the concerned people to leave on their own. I think they are going now,” the Chief Minister said.

According to different accounts, around 1,200-1,400 houses were razed to the ground on September 20 and 23 in Dhalpur I, II and III villages in Gorukhuti, leaving over 7,000 people homeless. Village markets, mosques, grave-yards, and schools were also bulldozed.

The eviction drive left two dead in police firing on September 23, including a 12-year-old boy who had got his first identity proof, an Aadhaar card, just before he was shot dead. Over 20 people were injured, including policemen.

When asked why talks were not held in the case of Gorukhuti, Sarma said: “In Gorukhuti too, we did counselling and it was mostly a consensus eviction. Only a few PFI people came and created that trouble. Otherwise, we had rounds of discussions prior to that.

“Last time, we did not publish the recorded minutes. This time (Lumding eviction), we are minuting the discussions, where the minority organisations have agreed that reserve forest should not be encroached.”

He told reporters that the Assam government had sent a dossier to the Centre requesting to ban the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its college-level wing Campus Front of India (CFI) for their alleged role in inciting people during the Gorukhuti eviction drive. However, the PFI’s Assam unit has denied the charges and said it does not have any cadre in the Gorukhuti area.

“Individual cases were registered and people have been arrested. Those are matters of trial now. But we are convinced that both the organisations should be banned and we have already requested the Government of India for that,” Sarma said.

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